August 9, 2008
I was reading a magazine when I found this article written by a social worker in Kerala. She was describing one of her train journeys with her fellow colleagues – a group of teachers, some years back. When the train stopped in a station, they all ordered for a cup of coffee. According to me, the railways provide one of the best coffees in India. At that time, when the now social worker was working as a teacher, the railways have not introduced the disposable paper cups, like they do it now-a-days. Coffee and tea was served in steel glasses, which were washed and then reused. The boy serving the coffee, gave the social worker and her colleagues their cups of coffee, and then went to the next compartment. After he has served in his three or four compartments, he came back to collect the cup and the money. But when he reached the compartment where the author and her colleagues where sitting, six of the cups where no where to be seen. After drinking the coffee, they kept the cups together on the window, so that the boy could collect it easily. But it was not there now. They station master blew the whistle, and the train shrieked into motion, slowly gaining speed. They searched franticly for the cups, but in vain. The author describes the situation in her own words.
“I still remember the face of the boy, running with the train, holding the window-bar. He ran with the train till he could run no more, until his little feet could not take him along with the speed of the train.”
The cups are provided by the railway, and losing six cups from his collection meant getting not paid for two or three weeks for the coffee boy. That might result in starvation for those weeks for the boy, his parents if he have got any, his siblings if he have got them, and all those who depend on him.
After the train have left the station, a teacher opened her bag and displayed the six cups.
“I took them so that we can have our own glasses at the school to drink tea.” She explained.
“Good work, yaar!” Exclaimed all others. “Well done!” said another teacher from behind. Everyone went on congratulating her for her ‘great good deed’. Nobody thought of the family that will starve for the coming days for letting them have their own cups for the tea the school provided.
I finished reading the article, of which this incident was only a small part. Another picture (or video?) came to my mind. It happened some six years ago, when I was at college.
I was coming back from college to my home for a short vacation, and I was traveling by bus. Two lady polices got into the bus, and sat behind me. As soon as they got into their seat, they started talking, about their salaries, their jobs, lockups, prisons, politics, religion and everything under the sun. The breeze that hit my face when the bus sped through the country, made me sleep within minutes. I woke up an hour or two later, when the bus has stopped in a small town. I heard the shouts of little boys, selling juices, water, newspapers and nuts. It was their shout that woke me up.
I looked outside to find a little boy waving a small packet of nut at me. He was not more than thirteen or fourteen, with torn shirt and dirty pants. He was bare foot, and his face was full of dust and dirt. His eyes spoke of the hardships in his life, and they were begging me to buy a packet of nuts.
“How much?” I asked. I don’t like those nuts much, but his face was so innocent and sad, that made me buy it.
“Two rupees.” He replied. He could not reach my window, he was so small, and so he leaned on his thumbs. I gave him the money and took the packet. He moved on to the police women behind me.
“Ma’am, packet of nuts, ma’am.”
“How much?” came the question from one of them.
“Only two rupees, ma’am.” His sounded like pleading them to buy.
“Two rupees is too much.” I heard one of them reply. “Can you make it three rupees for two packets?”
Bargaining for two rupees!
“No ma’am,” replied the boy. ” I have to give the money to my master. He won’t give me my salary if I don’t give him the full money.”
That was an innocent answer.
“Ok, then give us two packets of nuts.” One of them said.
I saw the boy leaning on his thumbs again, to give them their packets. I heard the clinging of the coins when they put it in the boys hand. The bus took off.
“Two rupees is too much for this packet of nuts.” I heard one of them saying to the next one.
“Oh, I haven’t given him four rupees for the packest!” The other one said.
“What? Didn’t you give him the money?” I heard the first person ask in surprise.
“Oh, no!” I heard the second one. ” I gave him four coins of fifty paise. Only two rupees. The bus took off before he could count the money!”
“How cunning!” I heard both of them laugh at their cleverness.